-or – Teammates aren’t friends and rivals aren’t enemies
You know I keep telling you guys I like sports anime but I’ve very little proof to back it up. I rarely talk about the genre, heck I haven’t even watched that many lately. I’m not even sure why. I just got distracted I guess. But 2018 has been decent for sports animes. Between Megalobox, Run like the Wind. The flawed but charming Harukana receive Hanébado!, Hinomaru Sumo and Tsurune, I’ve rekindled my specific interest in these stories.
With the announcement of a 4th Haikyuu season, I’ve had sports anime on the brain and I just want to talk about it with someone. People I know in real life have been quietly walking away from me when I try to start the conversation so here we are. Aren’t you lucky! I’m gonna babble about sports anime and why I like them. Fun times!
There are in fact many subjective reasons for my personal interest in the genre and surprisingly few have anything to do with character design. I mean it’s not a drawback or anything…. Today, I’m going to talk about the peculiar social constructs of sports anime. Mainly, the relationships.
In short, teammates aren’t friends, and that’s great! Sure a lot of these shows still focus on some sort of friendship bond but not as much as most genres. The central relationships explored aren’t necessarily friendly or romantic. In Haikyuu for instance Hinata and Kageyama aren’t really friends. They appreciate and respect each other but if they weren’t on the same team, they wouldn’t necessarily talk. The same thing can be said for pretty much all the Ace of Diamond characters who have actual friends off the team that make regular appearances.
What’s interesting to me is that the dynamic and emotional impact of such relationships are completely different and rarely explored in other genres. In a way, it’s a bit like being co-workers, brought together by a common goal rather than mutual fondness. However the heightened tension brought about by competition creates much more intense emotional reactions. I guess it’s also somewhat like soldiers fighting together but you get to go home each night and talk to your actual friends.
Like I said it’s fairly unique. These particular circumstances mean that you can create those high drama moments in a fairly natural way, without making your characters seem completely insane. But the conflicts which come up in these narratives, and their resolutions, are driven by fairly dispassionate practical considerations. You can’t see those aspects of the characters once too many feeeeeelings get involved. Sports are logical and straightforward. You want to win so work your behind off and get nervous before competitions. If you do win you’re super happy, if you don’t you’re disappointed. See? Logical.
Before you bombard me with all those titles that have strong emotional plotlines, I’m not saying sports anime don’t have friendly or even romantic relationships as important narrative elements. I’m only saying they don’t necessarily have to, which allows for some flexibility.
And the flipside of teammates not being friends is that rivals aren’t enemies. The concept of rivalry is more frequent as it translates better to other genres. A likable fellow who isn’t bad at all and could even have been friends with the protagonist under different circumstances but finds themselves on opposite side of an issue. The confrontation isn’t personal.
Rivals are a useful narrative element. You can easily switch their roles without having to justify too much to your audience. They are great motivators but don’t make your hero look like an obsessed maniac if they fixate on them. The rivalry itself can be separated from the character to a certain degree.
I really liked Hikaru no Go when I was younger. Hikaru and Touma are a great example of rivalry. They aren’t friends and they face off and will find themselves on opposite sides of the board in the future as well. They have very different personalities and aren’t likely to get along. However, they also live in the very small world of professional competitive Go. A word the vast majority of people know absolutely nothing about. Very few people can ever understand Hikaru and relate to his experience the way Touma can, and vice versa. It’s a comfortable relationship tingeds with constant threat.
I enjoy variety, that’s why the possibility of following interactions that are neither romantic, friendly or aggressively adversarial is interesting to me. There are many ways in which we, as individuals come together. It doesn’t always have to be over feelings or last forever. Sometimes you just try your best to accomplish something specific with anyone willing and able to help, and that’s special too.